Study Guide

Their Eyes Were Watching God Innocence

By Zora Neale Hurston

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Innocence is closely linked to youth, idealism, and—to a lesser extent—virginity. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, reference to the protagonist’s innocence almost always evokes nature imagery, specifically the season of spring, which is full of flowers and blossoms. Innocence, then, is considered a "natural" state, the condition in which God first situates humanity.

Early in the novel, there's an implication that innocence and womanhood can't exist simultaneously. However, as the narrative unfolds, the protagonist manages to do just that. The loss of innocence has as much to do with the destruction of dreams as with loss of virginity. Interestingly, the loss of innocence inevitably leads to the development of the capacity for deception—creating an interiority and externality in the character that wasn't present before. Innocence can also be regained—to some extent—through true love, which can restore a person’s youth.

Questions About Innocence

  1. Janie’s grandmother was a slave, probably raped by her white master. Janie’s mother definitely was raped by her white school teacher. How does her ancestors’ history affect Janie’s innocence? How about others’ perceptions of her purity and innocence?
  2. How is Janie’s naïveté and innocence depicted in the first few chapters of the book? Consider her ignorance, her upbringing under Nanny, and her sexuality.
  3. In this novel, innocence is associated with happiness and virginity. At what specific instance does Janie lose her innocence, not only physically but emotionally?
  4. Does Janie ever totally lose her innocence? Does she regain some level of innocence as she ages?

Chew on This

Despite Janie’s hard life and sexual experiences, she never completely loses her innocence; her relationship with Tea Cake, in particular, revives her inherent sense of easy trust and wide-eyed wonder.

The crucial scene of the bee and the pear tree can be read biblically, with Janie’s backyard as the Garden of Eden and Janie as Eve.

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